If his demise was accidental, and, indeed, the newspapers say that was the case, then it might, perhaps, be appropriate to remark that the essential element in his cinema was the chance occurrence. Theo Angelopoulos was a filmmaker who specialised in the ephemeral detail, the most insignificant of accidental happenings. And yet, it was the superficial detail that led to the exposition of profound themes and thoughts.
Angelopoulos was a director who straddled several worlds. If films like Ulysses Gaze and The Travelling Players grappled with global issues, then his innovation is most visible in emotional journeys as in Landscape In The Mist.
The Calcutta viewer is aware of Theos ambiguous narratives having watched Landscape In The Mist during IFFI 90 and seen most of his films as part of a retrospective during the Calcutta Film Festival in the early part of this century. Mesmerised by Theos inventive mise-en scene, cineastes were astounded to discover that when his camera traversed space it also moved through time. In The Travelling Players, a man steps out of a cafe and, in a single shot, travels through seven years of time!
Yet it is not his meditative style replete with long takes and complex craning that single him out as a true avant-garde artist in the fashion of a Tarkovsky or a Parajanov; it his ability to fuse, albeit ever so subtly, incidents and events of a fairly common nature with a tract that is both profoundly philosophical and resonant with political undertones. If the Calcutta viewer was stunned into a hushed admiration by the denouement of Landscape In The Mist, then the disjunctive narrative of Eternity and a Day must surely have disturbed the Calcutta cineaste. A terminally ill poet forges a bond with an Albanian urchin — a refugee — who shakes him out of his angst-ridden existential stupor and he resumes his endeavour to rewrite some of the poems of Dionysios Solomos, a Greek poet from an earlier century. Dionysios had lived in Italy for so long that he had forgotten his mother tongue and was reduced to buying Greek words for money! This film is remarkable for its use of dance and near-balletic camera-choreography in which reality and fantasy appear indivisible and wholly unified.
Theos unexpected death is saddening no doubt, but so is the sudden decline in enthusiasm for avant-garde cinema, particularly in this city of ours where film culture and scholarship seems to have taken a back seat. There isnt even a critic who would tear some of Angelopoulos cinema to shreds for his occasional bursts of self-indulgence (as in parts of Ulysses Gaze and The Weeping Meadow).
Do we wait for an eternity for another Angelopoulos to come along and complete The Other Sea or have we all resigned ourselves to accept the fact that some of us are also going to be run over by off-duty policemen on motorcycles?